Gong Li becomes the face of L'Oreal

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The actress Gong Li, above, is to be the new face of L'Oreal in China, where the French cosmetics company is experiencing its fastest growth worldwide.

In February, L'Oreal set up a branch of the company in Peking to supply their products to the burgeoning market in China. In just six months, the firm's make-up, perfume, and skin products have proved so popular with the Communist Chinese that business is growing faster than any of its other markets worldwide.

Just how much Gong Li's contract to promote L'Oreal products is worth is unknown, but the gigantic billboard of the actress in Peking - 40 metres by 15 - is one of China's largest

The Chinese actress is best known for her work with Chinese director Zhang Yimou, for whom she appeared in Raise the Red Lantern, Judou and Shanghai Triad which was shown at the Cannes Film Festival. But it was Farewell My Concubine which brought Gong Li to the attention of Hollywood. The film was the joint winner (with The Piano) of the prestigious Palme D'Or award at the Cannes Festival. But, ironically, it was originally banned in China and only released when the film's director agreed to cut the pivotal scene of the Sixties Cultural Revolution.

Gong Li recently played opposite Jeremy Irons in Wayne Wang's Chinese Box. The film, due out this autumn, depicts the story of a British journalist in Hong Kong who becomes involved with an ex-bar girl as the colony is handed over to China.

Acclaimed for her beauty and mystique, the actress is regarded as the muse of famed Hong Kong designer and retailer Shanghai Tang.